TYLER, Texas — The origins of Groundhog Day began in western Pennsylvania back in 1887 and although it is celebrated today, the traditions have changed up a bit.
Western Pennsylvanian settlers brought with them the traditional Christian holiday feast, Candlemas. This was an event where candles were blessed and distributed to households for dark, winter nights. The date of February second falls about halfway between the Winter Solstice and Vernal Equinox so the hopes of an earlier Spring carried an optimism that the next 6 weeks of Winter wouldn't be so brutal.
So, how did Punxsutawney Phil get involved in the holiday?
One saying for Candlemas states, "For as the sun shines on Candlemas day, so far will the snow swirl in May."
Meaning, that if a sunny sky was spotted on Candlemas day - that could mean a long Winter ahead. German settlers used a hibernating animal, a hedgehog, in Europe to take note of the sun's shadows on this day. When they brought traditions with them to North America, no hedgehogs were around and a similar animal was used - a groundhog.
Unfortunately for the native groundhogs, this was a day of feast. So, February 2nd involved finding one special groundhog for weather predicting and the others that didn't hold such power, were served up for dinner.
Woodchuck steak was considered a delicacy in the times of 1900 so hunting and eating groundhog wasn't out of the ordinary. However, a groundhog punch that was served to the special groundhog was a little different. An elixir of vodka, milk, and orange juice was fed to the forecasting animal to give it seven more years of life. Although the recipe may have changed, it is said Punxsutawney Phil still enjoys a magical drink each year and that is why he has lived so long.
For any concerned readers, don't worry! The groundhog hunt no longer takes place and Phil is still widely celebrated along with a few other weather-forecasting critters including Buckeye Chuck (Ohio), Sir Walter Wally (North Carolina), General Beauregard Lee (Georgia ), French Creek Freddie (West Virginia), and here in Texas, Bee Cave Bob!